(AFP) — US President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed sympathy for the victims of a terror attack in Iran that killed 13 people, but issued a barbed warning that the country was reaping what it sowed.
“We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” Trump said in a brief statement.
“We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”
Earlier, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that “the depravity of terrorism has no place in a peaceful, civilized world.”
“We express our condolences to the victims and their families, and send our thoughts and prayers to the people of Iran,” she added.
Trump has long accused Iran of backing terrorism. During last year’s presidential campaign, he suggested that one of his top priorities was to dismantle the “disastrous” 2015 deal aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
As president, he has maintained his criticism of Iran — during a visit to Israel last month Trump said Tehran now feels “emboldened” by the nuclear accord — but has not tampered with the agreement.
A United Nations watchdog group confirmed in June that Iran was adhering to the deal.
Even as Washington expressed its condolences over the terror strike, the US Senate advanced legislation Wednesday that would impose new sanctions on Iran, partly for what the bill described as the Iranian regime’s “support for acts of international terrorism.”
Lawmakers voted 92 to 7 to clear a procedural hurdle, setting up a later vote on final passage.
But Republicans and Democrats alike said they are eager to add an amendment that would slap fresh sanctions on Russia in response to US intelligence conclusions that the Kremlin conducted or approved cyberattacks on US targets in an effort to sway the presidential election.
“In the last eight months, what price has Russia paid for attacking American democracy? Hardly any at all,” Republican Senator John McCain said. “We need a strong Russia sanctions amendment. We need it now.”
Senate Democrat Dianne Feinstein said it was “the wrong time” to pass fresh sanctions on Iran.
“The country has just suffered from two significant terrorist attacks after electing a moderate government with 57 percent of the vote,” she said. “We need to give Iran the opportunity to recover and set a new course.”
Iran’s supreme leader shrugged off the attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Tehran, the first in Iran by the Islamic State group.
“These fire-crackers that happened today will not have the slightest effect on the will of the people,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after the twin attacks, which also left dozens injured.
The attackers struck at Iran’s most potent symbols: its parliament complex in central Tehran and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who led the 1979 Islamic revolution.
President Hassan Rouhani called for global unity against violent extremism.
“Iran’s message as always is that terrorism is a global problem, and unity to fight extremism, violence and terrorism with regional and international cooperation is the most important need of today’s world,” he said in a statement.
The country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards vowed revenge and claimed the United States and Saudi Arabia were “involved.”
The standoff lasted around five hours before all the gunmen holed up in parliamentary office buildings were killed.
IS released a video of the attackers from inside the building via its Amaq propaganda agency — a rare claim of responsibility while an attack was still going on, suggesting a degree of coordination.
The Sunni jihadists of IS consider Shiite Iran to be apostates, and Tehran is deeply involved in fighting the group in both Syria and Iraq.
The assaults began mid-morning when four gunmen burst into the parliament complex, killing a guard and one other person, according to the ISNA news agency.
The parliament attackers were in their early 20s and spoke Arabic, according to a Revolutionary Guards intelligence official.
Another official said they were dressed as women and entered through the visitors’ entrance. One eventually exploded a suicide vest while the others were killed by security forces.
One man, recovering in a hospital bed, told state TV he was waiting to meet an MP when the shooting began.
“I was in the visitors’ lobby and suddenly shooting began. There were women and children. I escaped towards the parliament, and was shot in the leg while running,” he said.
At roughly the same time, two assailants entered the grounds of the Khomeini mausoleum, killing a gardener and wounding several other people.
One detonated a suicide vest, while the other was shot dead.
It was not clear whether the shrine attackers were women, as earlier reported, or just wearing female clothing.
Iran’s emergency services said a total of 13 people were killed in the two attacks and 46 wounded.
In a statement after the attacks, the Guards said they “will never allow the blood of innocents to be spilt without revenge”..
“This terrorist action… after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of the one of the region’s reactionary governments (Saudi Arabia)… shows they are involved,” it added, referring to Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh.
Parliament was in session as the violence unfolded and members were keen to show they were undeterred, posting selfies showing themselves as calm and continuing with regular business.
Meanwhile, gunshots continued in the neighboring office buildings, with police helping staff to escape from windows and snipers taking position from rooftops.
Speaker Ali Larijani dismissed the attacks, saying they were a “trivial matter.”
The intelligence ministry said there had been a third “terrorist” team that was neutralized before the attacks started.
Tehran was on lockdown, with streets blocked and parts of the metro closed.
Others also drew a link to Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which Iran accuses of funding IS.
“For these two actions to happen… after this meeting means that the US and Saudi regimes had ordered their stooges to do this,” said Mohammad Hossein Nejat, deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence branch, according to the Fars news agency.
Messages of support were sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Syrian foreign ministry.
The three countries are close allies in the fight against rebels and jihadist groups in Syria. Iran has also been helping to battle IS in Iraq, which also sent its condolences.
This has made Iran, the predominant Shiite power, a priority target for IS, which published a rare video in Persian in March warning that it “will conquer Iran and restore it to the Sunni Muslim nation as it was before.”
Jihadist groups have clashed frequently with Iranian security forces along the borders with Iraq and Afghanistan, but the country has largely escaped attacks within its urban centers.
The intelligence ministry said in June 2016 that it had foiled an IS plot to carry out multiple bomb attacks in Tehran and around the country.